Edina Chimombo writing down her name on a piece of paper
In 1969, Edina Chilombo got into a wrong bus as she was coming from Mulanje on her way to Phalombe and she found herself so many kilometers away from her destination. Worse still, she had no any money in her pockets and the sun was setting.
This was not the work of a ruthless magician or a spell from a covetous sorcerer, Edina trusted someone to show her a bus to take her to her destination, Misomali area, because she could not read the signs that were flagged on the windscreens of each commuter bus. Either intentionally or unintentionally, the person showed her a wrong bus which took her to a different direction.
According to ‘Gogo Edina’, as she is fondly called by her fellows in Thambe village where she lives, this is just one of the many ordeals which she has been going through in the last 60 years or so because she was unable to read or write.
Gogo Edina stated that among other things in her entire life, she will also live to remember the 2015 tormenting floods which washed away crop fields, household property, destroyed houses and livestock in the district. She was not spared by the disaster and she was heavily affected just like many other inhabitants of Thambe Village in the area of Traditional Authority Nazombe in Phalombe district. However, she called the January, 2015 floods, which compelled the Malawi government to declare a state of national disaster, a blessing in disguise.
“I am calling the floods a blessing because of what came out of the whole situation. YONECO brought us tents and established some structures in the flood evacuation camps. There were Gender Based Violence (GBV) prevention and reporting structures, women were being taught how to knit as well as adult literacy and numeracy classes also commenced within the camps.
Women showing some of the items
that were knit
By the time we were returning back to our homes, many women were able to manipulate yarn and create a fabric, read, write and count. We were also aware of GBV reporting mechanisms. All these skills are greatly enhancing our social and economic welfare,” explained Gogo Edina.
Some other women from the village echoed what the lady said; “we have Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) groups and now that we have been imparted with numeracy skills; each member is able to calculate the shares and interests… Furthermore, some women will soon be generating some income out of the items they knit like shawls and sweaters”, added another woman from the village.
It was further added that the GBV awareness campaigns that were conducted in the area also helped to improve men’s and women’s relationships in the community. There is tolerance and understanding and this is something which Gogo Edina called an ideal situation she has always been looking for.
Gogo Edina also returned to the issue of literacy and she laughed as she recalled a time when she relied on her granddaughter to read everything for her.
“I am a dedicated member of the Roman Catholic Church, but my failure to read and write has always been a thorn in my fresh.” She said.
“I have always wanted to sit down on my own, read the Holy Scriptures and reflect. I never thought this could come to pass but here I am; able to read and write,” said Gogo Edina.
However, Gogo Edina explained that the small font of the Bible verses prevents her from reading effortlessly because her eyes are not strong enough to make out the words.
In her Lhomwe language, Gogo Edina jokingly said; “erimakilhowa yawi metho alha ehoneke” (people have bewitched my eyes, I am not seeing properly). She added that she is planning to get a pair of reading glasses so that she can enjoy all the Bible stories which people have been reading for her.
However, every Sunday she happily sings and reads along the Christian Hymn Book. Currently, she travels by bus without being afraid of repeating the ‘1969 scenario’. Sometimes when she was registering her name for the government-supported Farm Input and Fertilizer Subsidy Programme, she was not sure whether her name had really been jotted down in the register or not. Gogo Edina smiled and said; “this year it will be a different case because I now know how my name is spelt.”
Soon after the January, 2015 floods which distressed a lot of people in several districts, YONECO, with support from UNFPA, implemented a project called ‘Restoring Hope to the Survivors of the Flood Disaster’. Under the initiative, YONECO established Places of Safety for women and adolescent girls where, among other things, adult literacy and numeracy classes were held, women were trained how to knit and GBV reporting and prevention mechanisms were also being strengthened in the flood evacuation camps.